It's got both a subscription, and a free play 'microtransaction to buy cool hats' server.
Ok, let's see now.
Basic level of play:
Click on a circle of pirates standing around to talk to them.
Select a pirate to get a radial menu, to challenge them to a game.
Use the minimap to navigate around islands at a tolerable pace. In shops you can sign up for jobs (yet another minigame) and buy stuff.
At the noticeboard you can apply for temporary jobs on ships. This is, basically, the way to get into the minigames, unless you're in a guild.
While on a ship, you can play games.
Most games are variants on columns or tetris. One is a bit like [bejewelled] (link is work safe but addictive - beware. Humm - the 'play on the web' version seems to be gone Try MSN?)
The big important 'game that actually matters' is the sword fighting game. This is basically a direct steal of 'Puzzle Fighters' with the added twists that the pattern of blocks you drop on your opponent depends upon the sword you have equipped (meaning that free players lose) and that it's a multi-way battle, each player can choose which opponent to target at any time.
Once you join up with a player ship, you can actually attack other ships.
Slightly improved level of play:
Go to the docks to teleport onto a ship that you are a member of the crew of - it will also show you how many of your crewmates are aboard which ship.
The process of attacking is a bit more complex. First you have to sail around and catch up to a target. This involves playing the sailing game. The more people playing and the better they do, the faster your ship moves. The navigation game (played by the ships captain) acts as a multiplier. Then you move onto a minimap - where the navigator plays a strategy game, everyone else gets to watch. During this game, sailing is important because it gives the navigator move tokens - but you also have to have someone playing the gunnery game to load the cannons. If you get hit, you want someone playing the carpentry game to repair the damage - and someone playing the bilging game to pump out the water (which otherwise counteracts the sailing bonus) When the ships meet you play the swords game as a team. The winning team then steals a certain amount of money and goods from the other ship. If you were damaged, then you start off with some unremovable blocks on the field. This is non-obvious, but a very large advantage. The strategy for this game is to build up large areas of a single colour, and then trigger them in combos. You also gang up three on one on an enemy, to try and put the enemies out quickly. If no one is targeting you, then you want to make large colour areas and combos. If many people are targeting you, then just try to keep your board clear for as long as possible and provide sprinklies (small attacks which sprinkle disconnected blocks on the opponent) You probably won't understand that unless you play ;) The sword your opponent uses selects the pattern of blocks they will drop (they are greyed out for a while) - some are much MUCH more evil than others.
Then, whether you win or lose, you RinseWashAndRepeat?.
The ultimate 'goal' of the game is to command a large fleet of ships under one flag, take over an island and live happily ever after while getting fat and rich.
The game contains only a few basic stuffs right now. Pieces of eight are cash - you can move them from island to island through the banks at a percentage cost (and quite a harsh one) or via ship - in which case you risk getting attacked and plundered. When you teleport to a ship (which you do often) or your home island (from the 'ye' tab of your status bar) your money is stashed at the island you were on. The next stuff is clothing. Does nothing but change your appearance. When in a battle, fight the guy with the best clothes first - he'll usually have the nastiest sword. After that is swords. Some are cheap, others aren't. In general, more expensive is nastier. Colour them to your preference. After that are goods. Rum is required for all ships, or you get penalised (not very visibly, but it seems to have an effect on results) and cannonballs are for shooting with. Anything else is just transported for profit - though shops need a constant supply to make stuff. Next is ships. Even the smallest ship costs too damn much - but since you only need one ship per ten pirates or so (or less for the really big ones) it's not a problem. You also need to have 'narrow' experience in all the ship jobs to own one. This is hard - gunnery is hard to learn (you have to learn everything else before you can even try, and I find the game itself nasty) - and battling skill can only be learnt by bitter experience. Next is shops - you can own them (even more cost than ships) or work in them (they require labour to do stuff - but this isn't really in yet)
Finally - the drinking game is a multiplayer thing which is in just for bragging. The game makes no damn sense - you have to make lines, that much is clear - but scoring is a total mystery. The whole game is fun because, and purely because, it is funny to have a group of people sitting around going 'yarr mateys' and pretending to get drunk on grog. I'm serious. The game can only end when everyone's toon falls unconscious from drink.
Anyway. It's a basically inflationary economy (computer ships pay out tiny amounts of money, all islands produce raw materials - the only sink is brigand ships, and they have to win battles to do that) - which is going to be a problem in the long term. It's also going to be a problem when more people reach the top of the game and find there is nowhere else to go, or when I get bored of doing the same thing over and over. Oh, correction on the economy - transferring money from banks is a big sink; and a variable one. But it's a big enough sink that most players will choose to avoid it.
But, even at its simplest and most irritating - it's a pack of basic puzzle games. Once crafting is in, it will have more puzzles (a multiplayer snake game would be good, and make sense for weaving) and there's never anything wrong with tetris variants.
I'm still playing it. This is close to a record for a game I picked up off the web. --Vitenka
StuartFraser would add that he is now also playing it, and if I had anything constructive to do would be cursing Vitenka by now.
Yarr! When I see you in game, I shall pillage your eyes! Or, um, something ;) --Vitenka
Arrr! What nym go ye by, upon the high seas! I've just got in from a single voyage that raked in 2,650 poe in plunder (of which I got 365, so I'm currently amused).
I'm signing up. I sense this is a bad idea. Especially given the 12Mb download I'm performing. --CH
Subsequent download sizes get larger before they get smaller, I'm afraid... the game is playable on dial-up, though. The only problem I've seen for dial-up users is running out of time in the drinking game.... - tjm (aka Theodore, Cap'n o' the Canasta of Blades)
You no longer need to download the webstart application - there's also a java applet that will download the game and pop up a window to play in. This may be functionally the same, it's not clear.
The pricing model is, quite possibly, the same as was noted above ("microtransaction to buy hats"), but to clarify: you can play for free, but you are limited to the 4 main sailing games (sail, bilge, carpentry, swordfighting. Also Rumble, it seems). If ordered to do so by the captain, you can play any of the other on-ship games.
In order to access the rest of the games, and acquire some stuff, you have to "pay". Some oceans (read: servers) are subscription-based - you really do have to pay a monthly fee. Some are "doubloon"-based - you can pay-as-you-go with "doubloons", which you can purchase with real cash, or by trading in-game. There's a dedicated doubloon trading screen, and going rates seem to be about 1,000 Pieces of Eight (which is 5-10 voyages' worth of plunder) to 1 doubloon (which is one-fifth of 30 days of all the crafting puzzles, for instance).
Gunnery. Lay down arrows to guide powder, wad, shot into your cannon, in the right order. I hate this game.
Gunnery is easy! But it scores very low, since you can only reload a cannon after the cap'n fires it, which he rarely does because you can only do it when encountering another ship and you have lots of pricey ammunition to waste and someone does well at the navigation game and the cap'n can line the shot up right. --Vitenka (May require rank to play this)
The non-free games
Navigation. Rotate wheels so stars drop into the right patterns. Usually played by the cap'n. (Because only one player per ship can play it)
Battle Navigation. Minimap game with winds and currents and stuff. Ditto.
RoboRally? style game, you place orders a few moves in advance, then execute simultaneously. Yuor aim is to either escape from or collide with the enemy ship (if you think you can swordfight them) and maybe to soften them up with a few cannon shots first. (Which is really hard to do against human players, since they never end up quite where they wanted to go, let alone where you expect them to. AI is pretty predictable and shootable.)
Drinking. Otherwise known as "Alchemy" on flash game sites like PopCap?.
Treasure Drop. There must be a name for this, 'cos it's an antique game. Drop coins into a bagatelle of cups-and-levers to make them drop to the bottom.
Alchemistry. Direct coloured tubes to mix up the right colour potions.
Distilling. Swap light, normal, heavy bubbles to get columns which are lighter than normal, with as little heavy in as possible.
Shipwrightery. Move various pieces around a board - some only move horizontally, some vertically, some diagonally - in order to pattern-match templates which you then place on the board. Quite fun.
Treasure Haul. A Bejeweled-alike, but with vertical swaps. Doesn't look like it'll come up too often.
Blacksmithing. You have to hit each square of the board 3 times, but after each hit you must move exactly the number of squares shown on the square you just hit. Chess-piece squares force you to move to the edge of the board, or in knight's moves. Also fun.
Hearts, Spades, Poker.
Weaving and Tailoring are being developed.
--ChrisHowlett A brief update. The above is all still true, but note the following:
Doubloon exchange rates have roughly doubed - ~1950 PoE per doubloon - but it's possible that pillage income has as well. Shop pay hasn't, I don't think
It's worth noting that Doubloons are only $0.20-$0.25
Apparently, if your account has at least one Doubloon in it, its Pirates won't be deleted for inactivity.
You can buy a month's Subscription Ocean ... um, subscription ... for 42 Doubloons
Last point on irregular play - items degrade over time, but most degrade 1 day every day you actually log in. The exception is the Labour Badge (which grants access to all the shop / crafting puzzles, and lets you take jobs), which degrades in 30 days of calendar time (since your pirate works even while not logged in)
Finally, new puzzles!
Rigging is an alternative to Sailing. Move lines of pieces on a hexagonal grid, to form chains of 3 or more identical pieces. Chains start at one of six pulleys, at the midpoints of the hex sides, with the next "active" pulley progressing clockwise. Fun
Weaving is a columns variant, I think, but its free day hasn't come up yet.